Monday, February 27, 2012

Strange Garlic Pizza at Campagnolo on Main

Campagnolo on Urbanspoon
I sort of gave up on "authentic" VPN Certified Neapolitan Pizza after Nicli Antica Pizzeria, but that didn't stop me from trying Campagnolo with the Vancouver Fine Dining Meetup. I initially wanted to get the pork-and-duck bollito misto, but it had been rotated off the menu (which changes about once every two months) to align with what's available seasonally. Then I spotted the lemon-and-garlic pizza.

If you didn't already know, there are two Campagnolo restaurants. There's Campagnolo Roma on East Hastings and Campagnolo on Main Street in Strathcona. The menus are slightly different. Neither are VPN Certified, and in fact, due to building codes the one on Main Street cannot have a wood fired oven, which is one of the requirements for certified authenticity. Campagnolog on Main turns out the same style of pizza with the same look and feel, so you're not missing much. The pizzas here are chewy and think, and the edge crust seemed to me rather a bit too wide at over 1" in some places.

Reservations Bookings are available for tables of 8+, but once you get to around 10+ people, we discovered they imposed a set menu. Our numbers dropped to 6 confirmed, and we ordered à la carte.
I started us off with Crispy Ceci to share. For mains, our server recommended the Sloping Hill Pork and somehow her pitch about the fall-off-the-bone goodness won over half the table because we had three orders of it. The rest of us went with pizza. The lone vegetarian ordered the Funghi, the was an order of Salsiccia, and I went with the Carbonara. For dessert, I shared a Terrina di Cioccolato.
  • Crispy Ceci ($8.50; chickpeas, chilies, mint, citrus; picture)
    • This was surprisingly good! It's cripsy chickpeas (probably fried, if not deep-fried, but it doesn't come out oily), which normally have a boring taste, except this dish tosses them in mint and citrus. The result is a light, refreshing, salad-like taste in the mouth combined with the fun crunch of the chickpeas.
    • I'm not sure I'd eat a whole bowl of them non-stop in one sitting, but a few spoonfuls per person are just right for sharing with a small table.
  • Sloping Hill Pork ($22; with ricotta gnocchi, leeks, Swiss chard)
    • The well-done portions of pork were definitely tender enough to just tear apart gently. But the portion seemed to me rather stingy for $22, which could get you a 7 oz steak. The single chunk of pork was about 8 cubic inches.
    • Flavour-wise I thought it was okay. Could have used some jus to temper the well-done dryness.
  • Funghi Pizza ($15.50; chanterelles, trumpets, fior di latte mozzarella, pecorino)
    • Mushroom pizza. Pretty decent, but nothing special.
    • Rather soggy in the centre, which is a risk when using wet ingredients (like mushrooms, which can give out a lot of water) and very thin pizza crust (which is the Neapolitan pizza style).
      • EDIT (Mar-18): I spoke with the lady who ordered this pizza, and she attributes the sogginess to the slice I got being one of the last pieces. It therefore sat on the plate and may have soaked up the steam or sauce from the other pieces.
  • Salsiccia Pizza ($15; fennel sausage, arugula, parmigiano reggiano, chilies)
    • There's the same sparse-ingredients problem here which I saw with the Agnello pizza at Nicli Antica Pizzeria. The sausage chunks were few and far between. Flavourful, but you had to be picky about which slice of pizza you chose if you wanted at least one bite of sausage. This is the one feature of traditional pizza that North American pizzas thankfully corrected.
    • The chili here (possibly mixed into the tomato sauce) gave this pizza a nice kick to the taste. It might not be for everyone, though, especially if you're firmly in the mild- to very-mild category of spiciness.
  • Carbonara Pizza ($14; lemon, stessa, crispy garlic, egg)
    • "Carbonara" refers to the classic eggs-cheese-bacon pasta combo. If you order this with that in mind, you'll probably find this pizza completely alien.
    • Usually pizza come with tomato sauce. None here! If you order this, get ready for a different pizza experience.
    • The one slightly-undercooked pizza turned out to be mine and this one. The crust was cooked through, but pale unlike the other two, which had been baked long enough to blister and burn in some places. Just a bit more browning and maybe some burn would have added much to the flavour of the crust, especially since there was so much on the pizza edge.
    • There's a nice picture of the Carbonara pizza on Urbanspoon, but my order looked NOTHING like it.
      • There was a single egg baked on it, but it was off to the side and basically sat on one slice of pizza. This might seem contrary to sharing, but it's just the one egg sunny side up, you really want to handle it with the full yolk in the same bite so it doesn't dribble all over and make a mess. If you want more egg, you can ask for it at $1 each.
      • The stessa (bacon) was barely visible. Actually, I'm not even sure it was on it, except there were bumps that looked like white bacon fat. Definitely no brown chunks like in the picture on UrbanSpoon. Can't say I made out the flavour of it.
      • The cripsy garlic was scattered in clumps, so you either got too much in a bite or none at all. This definitely could have been done better. Same amount of garlic (it's a very strong flavour), but just distributed much more evenly. Because of the naturally clumping nature of this ingredient, it can take a while to manually separate and sprinkle onto the pizza, however. I can see why they shortcut this. Disappointing, though.
    • The crispy garlic was an interesting flavour here. If you've never seen it or had it before, it's basically a sort of deep-fried minced garlic. It's a deep honey-gold colour, and once it cools it is crispy for a long time. It can be on the oily side if not drained enough. The flavour isn't the same straight garlic taste, but softer. The aroma is wonderful. The taste can be domineering, so it's usually used in small quantities to enhance the flavour of something else, such as with stir fried vegetables.
      • Here, the flavour is clear in the pizza, but tempered and freshened with the lemon. A surprisingly good combination.
    • Overall, this is an interesting pizza to try, but I would have to caution that it's not for everyone, especially if the kitchen continues to leave the garlic in large clumps here and there. Too much of that in one bite definitely ruins the taste of this otherwise intriguing pizza.
  • Terrina di Cioccolato (chocolate terrine ; $8; coffee, nutella)
    • This was layers of cake and a dense, almost hard cream. The top layer of cream (the nutella portion) had crushed hazelnuts in it.
    • There isn't the same dark chocolate colour or rich chocolate flavour, to really count as a chocolate cake or chocolate anything. Sorry to sound like a chocolate-cake-snob, but at best it's a coffee dessert. It tastes somewhat like a brown Purdy's Hedgehog or a Coffee Crisp.
    • It's a good sized portion, but might be slightly overpriced at $8. If you were looking for a deeply chocolatey dessert or a "real" chocolate cake, this will disappoint. If you like nutella and the milk-chocolate and hazelnut combo, or if you count nutella as "chocolate", then this could work out for you.
    • The taste wasn't rich enough for me and I gave up after two half-bites.
My bill for one peppermint tea ($2.25), the entire order of Crispy Ceci, the Carbonara pizza, and half the Terrina di Cioccolato, was $28.75. $32.20 after 12% tax, $40 after tip.

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